When Griffin Bing, "The Man With the Plan," invites some of his buddies to spend the night at the Old Rockford House --- which is reported to be haunted and is slated for demolition the following day --- only his best friend Ben Slovak shows up.
After Ben falls asleep, Griffin is left alone with his thoughts --- and worries. Lately his parents have been talking about selling the house and moving to a less expensive neighborhood. Griffin will do anything to stay in his home and not leave his friends.
To pass time until morning, Griffin decides to investigate the old house. When he does, he stumbles across an old-fashioned desk with a tiny drawer that won't budge. But when he finds a small button and presses it, the locked drawer pops open. Wedged in the back of the drawer is a faded old card with a baseball player named GEORGE HERMAN (BABE) RUTH. Griffin immediately realizes that the card is valuable, and he hopes that by selling it, he can solve his family's financial problems.
The next morning, after avoiding disaster with a wrecking ball, he shows the card to Ben, who questions if it belongs to Griffin or the owner of the old house. After some discussion, the boys decide to take it to "Palomino's Emporium of Collectibles and Memorabilia" for appraisal.
The Emporium owner, S. Wendell (Swindle) Palomino, examines the card and convinces the boys that it's a replica --- a 40-year-old reproduction of an original Babe Ruth baseball card --- and not worth much. He gives them $120 for the card. After the transaction, Griffin watches Swindle lock the card in a portable safe behind the counter. Griffin suspects that it's worth much more, but Swindle has an explanation for everything.
Griffin gives half the money from Swindle to Ben and pockets the remainder. Later, Griffin sees Swindle on television holding up the Babe Ruth card. On camera, Swindle lies about how he it got it and announces that it will be sold to the highest bidder, estimating that the rare collectible could bring $1 million at auction.
Griffin realizes that he has been lied to, tricked and cheated, and he vows to get the card back from Swindle. He can't tell his parents, because he lied to them about where he was on the night he spent in the old house. So he has to come up with a plan to break into the store and retrieve the card. Standing in his way are a vicious Doberman guard dog, a sophisticated security system, a hidden safe, and his best friend, Ben, who has serious reservations about Griffin's scheme.
Without being overly preachy, author Gordon Korman presents some thoughtful moral dilemmas for preteens to consider. Who is the rightful owner of the card? To what lengths will Griffin go to get it back? Will he lie and steal?
SWINDLE is a novel about standing up to bullies and cheats, regardless of who they are, and accepting responsibility for one's behavior, no matter how well intentioned. More importantly, it's about loyalty, trust and consequences. While a couple of passages of dialogue sound more like adults talking than preteens, the overall message of the book is presented convincingly.
--- Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt